HP weighs in further on data center heat issues

Rapidly increasing loads on data centers prompt users to look for power management solutions

Hewlett-Packard Co. announced three products Monday designed to help enterprise users deal with power management difficulties. The products, due to ship Feb. 6, include a water-cooled heat exchanger unit which can be attached to the side of a server rack.

Heat issues are being exasperated as users bring more denser servers, including blades, and multicore processors into their data centers, according to Paul Perez, vice president, storage, networking and infrastructure for industry standard servers at HP.

"Moore's Law is running into the law of physics," Perez said in a phone interview Friday. Moore's Law, coined by Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore, states that the number of transistors on a chip will double every 18 months.

While chips and their power consumption needs are evolving rapidly, data centers haven't changed all that much, Perez said. He estimates that the ratio between the cost of power and cooling that power is fast approaching a one-to-one relationship compared with the situation a few years ago when it typically cost US$0.30 to cool every $1 of power. At the same time, hardware vendors are finding themselves talking not only to a customer's IT personnel about equipping a data center but also addressing the concerns of a company's facilities department keen to know how much they need to budget for power for the next three years.

To help cool down data centers, HP and IBM Corp. have both turned to an older technology used by mainframes, water cooling, by tapping into existing chilled water supplies within a company's data center or into the entire building's air conditioning system. IBM announced its eServer Rear Door Heat eXchanger, previously codenamed "Cool Blue" back in July 2005. The four-inch thick water-cooled door fits onto IBM's eServer Enterprise rack.

Instead of a door, HP's Modular Cooling System (MCS) is a heat exchanger that attaches to the side of an HP server rack. Perez said the device can cool up to 30 kilowatts of power in a single rack. The exchanger costs $30,500 and can be managed via HP's Systems Insight Manager (SIM) which receive alarms from the device in the event of an accidental water leak.

"This [water cooling] is an emerging sweet spot," Perez said. HP started thinking about using water cooling in data center racks back in 1998, he added, with the company developing MCS over the past eighteen months to two years. MCS does require plumbing work and HP is offering installation services to support the product, according to Perez.

At the same time, HP is standardizing on a single rack for data centers which is designed to hold its ProLiant, BladeSystem, Integrity, Integrity NonStop and HP 9000 servers as well as its StorageWorks unit's range of storage products. Previously, HP had sold seven different racks for its hardware which were incompatible with each other, meaning that, for example, a ProLiant server couldn't fit into an Integrity rack, according to Perez.

Known as the Universal HP 10000 G2 Series Rack, the new rack includes convection cooling and improved ventilation. It comes in two sizes, 36U priced from $1,199, and 42U costing from $1,249. U is the standard unit for measuring the space between shelves on a server rack where 1U equals 1.75 inches. Perez estimates that HP sells more than 100,000 racks per year.

The third product upcoming from HP is the company's Power Distribution Unit (PDU) Management Module which can remotely manage all the individual HP power strips in a data center. The management module, priced at $199, can send alerts to HP SIM software, Perez said.